Mrs.Sona was taking a vacation after a long time with her father and her 8-year-old daughter.
She was well-traveled and knew what she wanted to do on her vacation. She used to plan her vacations with a small travel company, who can give her personalized service. After traveling for a few years she thought she is smart and could manage to get the best deals online. So she decided that she would do everything on her own this time.
More than that, it was the THRILL & KICK she got eventually in her social circle that she planned it and got the best her way.
Me being a travel consultant she always consulted with me during her planning. This time after initial planning, as usual, I sent her the itinerary and once she got the itinerary she never discussed it further.
This time she was traveling to South Africa. She got a good deal though it was a twelve-hour flight with a 4 hours 30 minutes halt in Kigali besides her flight from Delhi to Mumbai.
Mrs. Sona had planned first 2 nights in Johannesburg followed by 3 nights each in Kruger area and Capetown. She had booked 2 nights in a timeshare apartment somewhere on the outskirts of Johannesburg.
Mrs.Sona and her family arrived in Johannesburg and by the time she came out of the airport, it was late evening and started raining. She thought of hiring a taxi but the driver advised not to travel at this hour with her father and small child as it was raining and the roads were bad. However, she insisted.
For her safety and convenience, I had recommended staying near the airport as she had a flight to Kruger after 2 nights. However, she preferred an apartment instead.
By the time she reached the area where her accommodation was supposed to be it was pouring. She did not know where to collect keys as she was told it would be kept at the reception. The residential unit was way inside from the reception and being a weekend there was no soul around. It was a deserted look all around.
She called me and asked me if I can try to do something. She was an old client of mine so I immediately called up my associates in South Africa. They said they have not heard about this apartment and moreover being a weekend nothing much can be done.
There was not even a departmental store or any restaurant or hotel in the vicinity. It was night and it was pouring heavily. Now Mrs.Sona was in the middle of nowhere and she did know what to do. She was stuck.
Luckily she managed to get refuge in the nearby police station for the night and they were kind enough to offer them some food and coffee. She was lucky or it could have been disastrous. This incident had shaken her and spoiled the mood of vacation.
If we are a bit careful while planning our vacation we can avoid such unhappy situations.
For planning and booking a vacation here are a few guidelines, which can always help you to plan your vacation.
1. Your passport should be valid for minimum of six months from departure from that country. Also, ensure you have at least 2-3 blank pages per country to be visited. Each country has different rules.
Booking of Airlines Ticket
1. Book your tickets at least 3 months in advance, unless you get a very good deal prior.
2. It is advisable to book refundable tickets, even if you have to pay a bit high. We never know if some emergency at the last minute.
3. Check your fares from different sites. Also with the airlines. You never know where you get the best.
4. Read the terms and conditions carefully along with the baggage policy. Different airlines have different baggage policy for check-in baggage as well for cabin baggage. Normally most airlines permit 2 bags of 25 KGS on international sectors. Again these policies change and vary from airlines to airlines. Like on certain domestic sectors in the USA, New Zealand they permit only one baggage even if you have traveled with more bags from your home country.
5. It is advisable to buy one single ticket with an immediate connecting flight, on the same airlines. You may be tempted to buy cheaper tickets but the stopover could be the next day.
6. Another risk when you book a different ticket with multiple airlines is both airlines could have a different baggage allowance. Not only this, you are required to collect the baggage and re-check in for your onward destination.
If you book on a single airline then your baggage is checked in by the airlines directly to your final destination.
7. Another important thing one needs to check is the transit visa requirements. For e.g, if you are traveling to the USA or any other destination via the UK you might require a UK transit Visa. Similar would be the case while transiting through Paris. It’s advisable to check with the airlines and consulate in advance.
8. While booking flights it is recommended to reach your destination early morning or early evening than late nights or midnights. You may save a few dollars on airfare but might end up paying an additional day charge for hotels. One must remember that hotels normally don’t give rooms before 14:00 hrs. At times 15:00 hrs. Also landing in a new place at odd hours can be a security issue.
Also read How to Book Cheapest Flight Booking
How to Book the Hotels
1. It is recommended you book hotels, which are centrally located. They are not only safe but close to restaurants and shopping. Eventually, you will save a lot on taxis, which at times can cost a huge amount. If you are staying at a destination for a longer duration and don’t plan to do sightseeing every day then it’s a different case.
2. It is advisable to check the reviews of the hotel before you book. Not only the good but also the bad ones are most important to evaluate.
3. While booking hotels ensure that all taxes are included in the price you are paying for. At times you might have to pay directly.
4. Check if the price you are paying for includes breakfast. Some websites show a lower price and don’t include breakfast.
5. Always ensure while booking you mention the arrival detail. If you reach by late evening and they are not aware of your arrival time, the hotel has the full right to cancel your booking.
6. It’s advisable to call up the hotel to send an email to reconfirm your booking even if you have confirmed printout. Also, check the directions to the hotel.
Vacation Booking through a Travel Agent
If you have not traveled before independently and not comfortable doing detailed research.
I would personally recommend that once you decide on your destination and budget it’s better to consult a knowledgeable travel consultant. He/she can guide you and work out the best solution and option as per your budget.
It’s a common myth that booking with a travel agent is more expensive than booking directly online. Most travel agents work with hotels, transporters, guides, and destination management companies directly and share good relations and enjoy preferred prices. This often helps you to be acknowledged upon arrival and at times help you get an early check-in/ late checkout or upgrades.
Travel Agents also work closely with online companies you book online and get a much better price if you book online.
I have come across a lot of people like Mrs.Sona who go to a travel agent just for an itinerary and free advice only to sit and book online.
They fail to understand that a vacation is not just airlines & hotels. There is a lot more experience on the ground. We all need a bit of handholding, pampering and someone to be there in case of an emergency.
Sure, you can book a trip yourself, but it may not be the same trip that you’d get through a travel agent if you were not good at planning a vacation and executing it.
What matters more when you are on a vacation is the overall experience and memories you carry and share on your return.
These were only guidelines and tips for planning a vacation. However, it is always advisable to check with the concerned author in advance.
Other General Guidelines and Tips for a Good Vacation
1. When you are traveling abroad you are a guest in that country so I recommend spending some time to go through the customs of that country. e.g wearing proper clothing especially when traveling to Islamic countries or visiting religious places.
2. Refrain from traveling alone or late night in secluded streets. It could be dangerous.
3. Always have the hotel address and telephone handy with you.
4. Refrain from carrying fruits and another food item from the breakfast table. It’s always better to ask than being embarrassed.
5. Always take permission if taking pictures. At times it could be embarrassing and could lead to problems.
About the Author
Ajit Nair is a travel professional with 25 years of experience. He worked with different travel companies and this post is based on some of his experiences. His LinkedIn profile gives some basic information about his expertise.